I’ve honestly lost count of all the movies I’ve seen where engineered diseases or cures spawn a dangerous, incurable condition that leaves humanity virtually decimated. But I’ll never get tired of them, and I Am Legend, based on the novel by Richard Matheson, is not only a wonderful edition to the “We tried to control nature and it backfired. Oops!” genre, it’s one of the most well-executed.
When scientists created a cure for cancer, they inadvertently created vampires as well. The vaccination, a genetically re-engineered measles virus, killed most of the people who took it, turned 5% into creatures of the night, and left 1% fully immune. I Am Legend chronicles US Army Lieutenant Colonel virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith), a member of the 1% and possibly the only person alive who has the skill set to find a cure, which is exactly what he does, in between trying to keep himself and his dog, Sam, alive. Humans and domesticated animals can be infected, so Robert spends his days hunting vampires, kidnapping one every so often to experiment on, and hunting unaffected wildlife for food.
Similar to The Girl With All the Gifts, I Am Legend presents us with a scenario where the standard of humanity with which we are used to is directly challenged, with the theme of an unwanted evolution, and extinction of humanity as we know it, being painfully highlighted. Though he knows he’s painfully outnumbered, Robert is smart enough to have kept himself alive, alone, for several years. But he has yet to come to terms with the fact that his time, his species, has run their course. In both the theatrical release and the alternate ending (I Am Legend), the most painful aspect of the film, for both our protagonist and audiences, is the knowledge that we have all evolved from the ruins of other species and one day, no matter how that next stage of evolution comes about, it will be our turn to become a footnote in another species’ history.
I give this one 4.75 stars.